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Tech Tips: Ditch Windows, Install Ubuntu Linux Instead

December 29, 2009

It was only a matter of time before you figured this out on your own, so I’ll go ahead and save you the mental effort: Yes, I am a computer nerd.  Don’t know why, don’t know how, but I’ve always been able to figure stuff on on a computer.  Doesn’t matter if it’s hardware or software, I’ve always operated under the assumption that, “there’s a way to make it work.”, and more often than not, I’ve been right.

Having said that, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve tried a few different Linux distributions over the years, so my forthcoming plug for Ubuntu (one particular type of distribution) is not without a certain amount of experience in this area.

As you are no doubt aware, Linux, like Windows, is an operating system for your computer, but unlike Windows, Linux is both free and “open source”.  By “free”, I mean that it doesn’t cost anything; you simply go to (for example), and download it.  By “open source”, I mean that the code which powers Linux is both accessible and editable, should you care to do either.  I, for one, do not care that much, but many people do, and the end result is software development that works something like what we have with Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is “open source” in that anybody can add to and/or edit existing content.  Same thing with Linux:  Anybody is free to, and is in fact encouraged to, access the source code, and improve upon it, if and when possible.  Non-stop, continuous, improvement by a worldwide group of volunteers dedicated to making it work better and better.  Philosophically, I dig it.

After that kick-ass introduction, I doubt this is necessary, but just in case…Novell has produced a couple “spoof” commercials modeled after the successful “Mac vs PC” ad campaign use by Apple, to get folks acquainted with Linux

Earlier I alluded to the fact that there were different distributions of Linux.  Lemme explain that a little better: Different companies (like Red Hat, Suse, Ubuntu, etc) take the “guts” of the Linux OS (the “kernel”), and then package it with a bunch of stuff that they do (their own code) which is then released as a package.  These various packages are referred to as “distributions”.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve tried a few different Linux distributions over the years (my first go-around with Red Hat was nearly 10-years ago), and in my non-tech, but still-better-than-the-average-computer-user opinion, Ubuntu is the best of them.  At least, it’s the best of the limited distributions that I’ve tried.  Granted, there’s a bunch of them, so I may be wrong.  Then again, Ubuntu has done everything I’ve ever needed it to do, so I haven’t had to go looking anywhere else.

What can it do?

Burn and/or Rip CD’s? Check
Burn and/or Rip DVD’s? Check
E-mail? Check (though, I think you’re a fool to use anything other than a web-based e-mail service, such as Gmail)
Edit video? Check
Edit audio? Check (Audacity rocks!)
Edit images? Check (Bring out the Gimp!)
Office software? Check (OpenOffice can do everything MS Office can do, and then some)
Download movies, mp3′s, etc? Check (Vuze kicks ass!)
Scanners, digital cameras, flash-drives…you name it? Check
More questions? Check out Ubuntu’s webpage for more info

Like I said, I’ve never had it not work.  It worked the very first time I ever installed it (the “Intrepid Ibex” release), straight “out of the box”.  That was over a year ago, and I’ve never had it crash, never lost my data, never had hardware that wouldn’t work with it.  In short, I haven’t had any problems whatsoever, and I haven’t looked back since.

I can’t say the same about Windows.  We got purchased a new laptop for my wife a while back, and it came with Vista pre-installed.  The VERY first thing I did was create an emergency backup/boot disc, just in case, which with Windows stuff, seems to be the norm.  Turns out, this was a smart, though futile thing to do.  Windows, as I expected, crashed a month or so after the initial install.  This wasn’t one of those, “Aw, just turn it off, wait a minute, and turn it back on, and everything’ll be allright” kind of crashes.  This was one of those, “Holy shit, you’re about to lose ALL your data when I reformat this computer” crashes.  Naturally, the emergency boot-disc I so cautiously created didn’t work.  And I mean “didn’t work” as in, “abject failure”.  Everything on the computer was of *extreme* importance to my wife, so the “just start over” scenario wasn’t an attractive option to either of us.  So, I dug out my Ubuntu 9.10 installation disc, and because it’s set up to install itself as a stand-alone operating system, running solely on the computer’s RAM memory, I was able to get a “skeleton verision” of Ubuntu running, which then gave me access to the otherwise inaccessible Windows file system, and recover all the desired data to a flash-drive.  Problem solved.  Nerd status, secure.

In other words, even if you never installed it, it could still come in handy to have a CD.  Just in case…

Comparisons you probably don’t really care about, but which are necessary to drive the point home

Windows 7 Package Pricing Ubuntu 9.10
Windows 7 Family Pack $150 Nothing
Windows 7 Home Premium $200 No cost
Windows 7 Professional $300 $0.00
Windows 7 Ultimate $320 Free-99

Miscellaneous Reviews & Observations

Windows 7 complaints begin

“Microsoft launched Windows 7 in late October to much fanfare. But, just like with previous Windows upgrades, complaints about bugs have already started rolling in.  A whopping 31% of clients have reported problems with upgrading to Windows 7, according to a recent survey of more than 100,000 customers conducted by consumer helpdesk firm iYogi.”

“…Once the bugs from upgrading have been worked out, users have had a relatively hassle-free experience. And those who bought a new computer with Windows 7 preloaded have seen the fewest issues.”

If you do decide to go with Windows 7, a buddy of mine tells me to zero out the hard-drive, and do a fresh install.  Do NOT try to upgrade.  You will not be happy.  You have been both warned and advised.

“Windows 7 is hardly flawless. Some features feel unfinished; others won’t realize their potential without heavy lifting by third parties. And some long-standing annoyances remain intact. But overall, the final
shipping version I test-drove appears to be the worthy successor to Windows XP that Vista never was.”

“Fear of incompatible hardware and software is another understandable reason to be wary of Windows 7. One un­­fortunate law of operating-system upgrades–which applies equally to Macs and to Windows PCs–is that they will break some systems and applications, especially at first.”

“There’s nothing in Windows 7 that Linux can’t do, and in most cases, do it better. Our machines are quicker and more efficient. Our desktops are more innovative and less static. Our apps are more powerful, cheaper and less partisan, and Linux security has never been better.”

Oh yeah, that’s one more thing I forgot about, mainly because it’s  a non-issue for me since switching to Linux.  There are no viruses on Linux.  Even if somebody were to write some malicious code, the worldwide community would be “on it” in minutes, as there is total transparency with an open source operating system.  There’s no where for malicious code to hide, so hackers don’t waste their time on it.  Pretty nice.

I’ll save you the boredom of watching the video (even though it’s only 1:54); from boot-up to online, the race ended thusly:

  1. Linux 9.10 @ 40-sec
  2. Linux 9.04 @ 51-sec
  3. Windows Vista @ 67-sec
  4. Windows 7 @ 72-sec

I’m sure you get the point by now: Linux = Kick Ass.  It’s not that I’m anti-Windows; I’ve been using their stuff since the early 90′s.  It’s just that once you get locked into the Windows way of doing things, it seems fairly hard to extricate yourself from it.  It’s not that hard really, though I’d be lying if I said it were a totally seamless transition.  There is a bit of a learning curve to get up and running with Linux (by which I mean Ubuntu Linux), but it’s not as difficult as it may sound, and they keep improving each release so that it works better and better with each one.

Anyway, if you don’t want to be held captive to Windows for the rest of your life (I once read that buying proprietary software like Windows is like buying a car with the hood welded shut), now’s as good a time as any to consider checking out a new (free, kick-ass) operating system.


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